Recent Vehicular Homicide Case Declared a MistrialJonathan Rands
In vehicular homicide cases the jury need not agree that the person was DUI or Reckless as long as all 12 agree that it was one or the other. They also must decide beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was the proximate cause of death. In this case, the jury did not agree the driver was the proximate case of death.
In Washington the legislature and the Courts (this is what is known as the Common Law) has come to define the crime of Vehicular Homicide.
It is defined as follows:
- When the death of any person ensues within three years as a proximate result of injury proximately caused by the driving of any vehicle by any person, the driver is guilty of vehicular homicide if the driver was operating a motor vehicle:
- While under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug or
- In a reckless manner; or
- Vehicular homicide is a strict liability offense but the conduct of the defendant must be both (1) the actual cause, and (2) the 'legal' ... cause of the death.
A jury must decide beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant, was the Proximate cause of death, and also, at the time, was either DUI or Driving Recklessly. These last two are only half of the equation, and frequently the easiest to prove, and the jury need not agree that the person was DUI or Reckless as long as all 12 agree that it was one or the other.
Read the trial coverage in goSkagit.com
In this case, the jury had decided the elements of DUI and Reckless, but that was only half the equation that needed to be proven Beyond A Reasonable Doubt. In Washington, unlike other jurisdictions, we use the term "proximate cause" to refer to both prongs of causation together. And the law requires the State to prove that the driving of the defendant was the cause of the deceased person. What this means is that when/if something unexpected happens, and an accident happens that causes the death of another, the driver who is alleged to be DUI at the time and thus charged with Vehicular Homicide, is not responsible as a matter of law. This is what is known as Superseding and Intervening Cause.
"If the intervening cause is strong enough to relieve the wrongdoer of any liability, it becomes a superseding cause."
BLACK'S LAW DICTIONARY 265 (10th ed. 2014) (defining "intervening cause").
Whether an act may be considered a superseding cause sufficient to relieve a defendant of liability depends on whether the intervening act can reasonably be foreseen by the defendant; only intervening acts which are not reasonably foreseeable are deemed superseding causes. These kinds of "intervening act(s)" will not constitute a superseding cause if the original actor should have realized that a third person might so act.
In this tragic case, what happened was my client was traveling on the road, on his side of the road, and as he approached a T-intersection the driver of a truck on the other side of the road, turned directly in front of my client, across his lane of travel. The other driver had been sitting stationary for a little bit, long enough to cause my client to think, "I hope he stays there until I pass," but with no time to react, the other driver turned into and started across my clients lane. But for this other driver, there would have been no crash. But for the other driver, my clients passenger would not have perished. This is black letter law superseding intervening act/event.
The jury had a doubt, or at least 10 of them did, 2 did not, and thus they were what we call a "hung jury" and because they could not agree and no verdict rendered it was declared a "mistrial."
The state has set another jury trial date, and has the right to try it again, whether they do or not is up to prosecutorial discretion. Trials never get better the second time and that is a consideration, as is the fact that it was 10 to 2.